You and your co-parent communicate by email. However, remember-email is not a neutral form of communication. You don’t have to use exclamation marks or all CAPITAL LETTERS to create a communication that has built-in tone. The tone can be based upon the words you select and the words you don’t select. History is what gets most of us into trouble and reader’s assumptions about you go a long way to create a negative tone in how your words are read. We just happen to read email correspondence with the sound of the person’s voice, the tone we are familiar with and we may read it with even body language built right in. Being positive and careful is especially important when communicating with someone you may be upset with you. The following tips may be helpful to consider prior to sending an important, or even a not so important, email. You never know when it may be read with a completely different tone or motive then you had intended.
COMMIT: Make a decision to write the best email you can. Commit to a positive communication that is written clearly and avoids creating further conflict.
DETERMINE YOUR PRIMARY GOAL: Consider the goal of this particular communication and stick to it. Is it to share a concern? Is it a weekly email to update each other? Keep it brief and to the point and without unnecessary words. For example, the subject may be “Our son’s school progress.” Make it short and share the facts that you know and how you came to know them. Indicate what you are wanting from your co-parent to improve this problem without sounding demanding.
ORGANIZE FOR EFFICIENCY: Determine if you have kept your communication to one topic. You do not need to address everything at one time. If you use the email format for weekly business communications bullet your FYI points and make sure you are brief and informative. Be sure to number any requests.
CONSIDER THE READER: You know how you are typically viewed by your former partner. Take what they have said about how you communicate and prove them wrong. So if your co-parent complains you withhold parenting information then force yourself to say a little more. On the other hand, if they complain you communicate too much, force yourself to say what you want to share in one or two sentence. If they say you harass them by too much contact consider only sending brief weekly parenting communication. Let them ask you for more.
REVIEW FOR TONE: Read your email/text back to yourself using an angry or sarcastic tone to “hear” how the other parent may read your email. Determine if your choice of words reflects aggression even if that is not your intention. Your co-parent will likely read your words, no matter how they were meant, with an angry tone or negative attitude. Now make the necessary changes.
SELECT YOUR WORDS VERY CAREFULLY: Identify and remove any name calling or judgments or labels such as lazy, neglectful, irresponsible. Look for sentences that begin with “You….”
ELIMINATE BLAME: Find a way to eliminate any desire to point fingers. Your goal is not to shame or blame, it should be solve the problem. This may mean giving up the desire to be “right” to avoid unnecessary conflict and in order to get a solution.
ELIMINATE ALL OR NOTHING: Remove the use of the words “always” or “never.” Try replacing them with the following:
Always=sometimes or often
Never= it seems that rarely
You should not= I would like you to consider…….
AVOID PLAYING MIND READER: Read careful and look for any place in which you are telling the other parent why they did something. “You did that on purpose…..” “You are undermining me because your father was absent in your life!” Do not make this mistake. Instead share how their behavior impacted you. You always have a right to share how something felt but you do not have the right to play God by assuming you know exactly why they are doing what they do.
DO NOT REPEAT SOMETHING YOU DO NOT KNOW DIRECTLY. You only really “know” what you have seen or been privileged to “over hear.” Everything else is hearsay and should not be taken as a truth. Therefore do not repeat what your child or anyone else has told you as if it is a truth. Instead of saying this “Why did you tell our child that I do not pay for anything?” try saying “Our daughter said that you made a comment about having to purchase everything for her and that I did not help pay for things. I wonder if she misunderstood something that was said. Please clarify to her that I contribute in a different manner.”
AVOID ANY IMPLIED THREATS: Look for anything that could be read as a threat and eliminate it. “You better not use that babysitter again or I will certainly have to do something about it!”. Rewrite again using an “I statement” instead.
“I am distressed to learn that you used a babysitter when you could have called me as agreed upon. This is unacceptable. Please explain what happened.
ASSESS FOR RELEVANCY: Is this email really important to send, and if not don’t send one. Pick your battles.
STICK TO BUSINESS FORMAT: Under the “Response requested” portion of your email make sure you have numbered your questions and make sure these are either a question (use of a ?) or it implies you need a response such as “Let me know if you agree to our son playing on the church basketball league.”
REVIEW FOR OFF LIMITS TOPICS: Make sure you have eliminated any hot topics that are not productive to communicate in writing.
WAIT! USE IMPULSE CONTROL: Do not send your email when you are highly emotional. You will likely write far too much information and it will need significant editing before mailing. Save it as a draft and come back to it later in the day or even the next day. Shorten it and take out the emotional content. One of the most important tips is to use impulse control. Hurtful words and inappropriate comments can do significant harm to your co-parenting relationship which will be felt by your child.
Remember you cannot un-ring the bell. You gain nothing more than increased conflict when you email while you are highly emotional. You will likely make matters worse. When we wait we can share how upset we are rather than be in a regressed emotional state. Nothing good will come out of a communication attempted from this place. So wait- DO NOT hit “send” until tomorrow!
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
- Seek and You Shall Find;Confirmation Bias with Divorce - July 1, 2015
- King Solomon’s Advice on Co-Parenting - June 3, 2015
- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015